Organic Consumers Association

One Down, One to Go: Get Antibiotics Out of Organic!

In April 2013, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) rejected a petition to extend the deadline for allowing growers of organic apples and pears to spray their fruit with tetracycline, an antibiotic. Thanks in part to the 32,619 comments submitted by OCA supporters, growers of organic apples and pears will have to stop spraying their fruit with tetracycline after Oct. 21, 2014.

That’s a victory. But only a partial one.

Please sign the petition below, telling the NOSB you want them to honor the Oct. 21, 2014 deadline for ending the use of another antibiotic, streptomycin, on organic apples and pears. And be sure to add a personal comment to increase the impact of the petition.

Last year’s vote to honor the Oct. 21, 2014, deadline for ending the use of tetracycline on organic apples and pears was close. In order for the industry to get what it wanted—an extended deadline—it needed 10 out of the 15 NOSB members to vote in favor of extending the deadline. Industry lost—and consumers won—by only one vote. (Industry needed 10 NOSB members to vote in favor of extending the deadline. But they got only nine votes).

The nine NOSB members who voted in favor of using tetracycline on organic apples and pears were Carmela Beck of Driscoll, Wendy Fulwider of Organic Valley, Nick Maravell of Nick’s Organic Farm, Tracy Favre of Holistic Management International, Harold Austin of Zirkle Fruit Company, John Foster of Earthbound Farm, Joe Dickson of Whole Foods Market, Zea Sonnabend of California Certified Organic Farmers, and Mac Stone of the Kentucky Organic Program.

The NOSB members who voted against using tetracycline in organic were Colehour Bondera of Kanalani Ohana Farm, Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides, Francis Thicke of Radiance Dairy, and all three of the NOSB’s consumer/public interest advocates, Jean Richardson, Jennifer Taylor and C. Reuben Walker.

When the NOSB votes again this year, this time on whether to get streptomycin out of organic, will we get the votes we need, like we did last year with tetracycline? Maybe not, and here’s why.

When the tetracycline vote took place last year, the NOSB members who voted to honor the deadline were operating under the assumption that apple and pear growers might still be able to use tetracycline under certain, extreme circumstances. That’s because they knew that after the vote took place on whether or not to extend the deadline, the NOSB planned a separate vote on whether or not to recommend to the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) that it examine whether it could use its authority to allow the use of tetracycline in emergency situations, even if the deadline for getting tetracycline out of organics had passed.

The NOSB voted unanimously to make that recommendation to the NOP. But the NOP came back and said it has no mechanism to establish a federal emergency spray program for fire blight on organic apple and pear orchards through either the Organic Food Production Act or the USDA organic regulations.

The NOP’s decision means that emergency or no, organic apple and pear growers can’t use tetracycline after Oct. 21, 2014.

Now, the NOP’s Crops Subcommittee is recommending that the NOSB vote at its meeting next week (April 29 - May 2, 2014) to extend the deadline for streptomycin, instead of honoring the deadline, as it did for tetracycline.

Given these two developments, it’s going to be tougher to get the votes we need to get streptomycin out of organics.

Please tell the NOSB that you oppose extending the deadline for allowing streptomycin in the production of organic apples and pears. And be sure to add a personal comment to increase the impact of the petition.

1-25 of 14482 signatures
Number Date Name Location Comments (optional)
14482 3 weeks ago shawnda jarvis alexandria, IN
14481 1 month ago Hoko Le Houston, TX
14480 3 months ago Rebecca Holt Los Angeles, CA
14479 4 months ago laurie wilks Grass Valley, CA No to antibiotics ! I will refuse to buy or eat any apples if they are treated with any antibiotics period!
14478 4 months ago Sharon Starr Johnstown, OH
14477 4 months ago Brian Pike Cypress, TX
14476 4 months ago kent lennox san francisco, CA
14475 4 months ago Steve bear Port Townsend, WA
14474 4 months ago Cathy Johnston London, ON
14473 4 months ago Brian Venable Seattle, WA
14472 4 months ago Kathleen Kohler Chula vista, CA
14471 5 months ago Willow Macpherson CA
14470 5 months ago Anonymous CA
14469 5 months ago Sandra Schott Whitefish, MT
14468 5 months ago Cecelia Soscia Virginia Beach, VA
14467 5 months ago Bernadette Webster Whitethorn, CA
14466 5 months ago Clint White Lawrence, KS How is this even close to acceptable?!? When do we get our organic back? This whole food system is a joke. Protect us as we try to protect our children!
14465 5 months ago K. Arnone Broklyn, NY
14464 5 months ago K. Arnone Broklyn, NY
14463 5 months ago Erin Gregoire Manchester, NH
14462 6 months ago Ruth Rogers Woolwich, ME
14461 6 months ago Anonymous Arlington, TX
14460 6 months ago Aira Saukaitis woodridge, IL
14459 6 months ago LeeAnn Cogert Blaine, WA
14458 6 months ago danielle bennett thornton, CO
Next ->


Consumers buy organic apples and pears believing them to be safer to eat than their non-organic counterparts. By allowing these fruits to be sprayed with streptomycin, consumers risk exposure to measurable levels of streptomycin. This could be a problem for people who are allergic to streptomycin.

Consumers also buy organic food thinking they are doing their part to solve the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The use of streptomycin on organic apples and pears increases the drug’s presence in the environment and ups the chances of pathogens developing resistance to this important antibiotic. We need streptomycin to treat tuberculosis, tularemia, plague, bacterial endocarditis, brucellosis and other diseases.

The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) recognizes and respects the powerful role antibiotics play in protecting human health, and the fact that antibiotics lose their effectiveness if they are overused. Resistant genes already exist for streptomycin. Every time streptomycin is used, it kills bacteria that are susceptible to the antibiotic and leaves others that build resistance. Once resistant genes are present in any bacteria, they increase the pool of resistant genes and the likelihood that human pathogens will acquire that resistance.

In 2011, concerned about the impact on human health associated with the overuse of antibiotics, the NOSB informed organic apple and pear growers that they would no longer be able to use antibiotics, a practice aimed at preventing a bacterial disease called fire blight. The organic apple and pear industry came back to the NOSB with a petition to push that date out until 2017. The NOSB voted last year against extending the deadline for tetracycline. The vote on streptomycin was put off, because of the government shutdown last fall, until May 2014.

Growers argue that they need to use streptomycin to prevent fire blight, which is caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora. Erwinia amylovora kills the shoots of apples, pears and some ornamental trees, giving them the appearance of having been scorched by fire.

But there are other ways to control fire blight, that don’t involve the use of antibiotics. In fact, U.S. growers exporting to the European Union (E.U.) comply with the E.U. rule that says apples and pears must be produced without antibiotics to be sold as organic. Dozens of E.U.-compliant Pacific Northwest organic orchardists have successfully used a systems approach to non-antibiotic fire blight control.

Additionally, there are some apple and pear varieties that are naturally resistant to fire blight. You can help promote and create demand for these naturally resistant varieties by asking your retailers to carry them. Beyond Pesticides has compiled a list you can print and take with you when you go shopping.